Tasha Muresan: Why Breastfeeding Policies Are Relevant
Throughout the month of August, Mitera and Maven have celebrated World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Awareness Month by bringing attention to some relevant topics related to breastfeeding on our blog.
As this month comes to an end, we wanted to loop back to our first discussion: the importance of social support for moms. We invite back Tasha Muresan, a Maternal Psychology researcher at Columbia University, to discuss what support from a mother's outer social structure could actually mean and how it translates for breastfeeding moms and moms in general.
What would it look like for a woman's outer social structure—legislation, places of work and leisure, health clinics, etc.—to support her own vision of motherhood?
In my previous article for this series on breastfeeding, I touched briefly on the idea that policy is an extension of the social support system that informs a woman’s infant feeding experience. I talked about self-efficacy, and the idea that “If a woman feels she is surrounded by a strong support system, she will feel confident and able to live out her vision of motherhood.” What would it look like for her outer social structure—legislation, places of work and leisure, health clinics, etc.—to support this vision, too? Currently, forty-nine states in the U.S. have laws allowing women to breastfeed anywhere. (Come on, Idaho!) Twenty-nine of these states have rules protecting breastfeeding moms from getting ticketed for “public indecency,” twenty-seven have some sort of legislation in place that makes room for women to breastfeed or pump at work, and seventeen let breastfeeding mothers opt-out of jury duty. And only five states—California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, and Vermont…and Puerto Rico—have developed breastfeeding awareness education campaigns. Five! In some places, breastfeeding policy looks as simple as the requirement to allot private areas that are not bathrooms within public spaces for breastfeeding mothers. In other states, it gets more specific, like in Louisiana, where a childcare center is prohibited from discriminating against breastfed babies, or in Maryland, where any product you buy related to “initiating, supporting or sustaining” breastfeeding is tax-exempt. You can read more breastfeeding legislature, here—it’s quite interesting! If anything you’ll see what I mean when I say “disjointed.”
Public policy has been on the move. And we’ve seen companies follow suite, like IBM’s new program that will ship breast milk for their business traveler-mothers, and, more recently, Target’s newly circulating stance on breastfeeding. The latter is certainly receiving its share of praise from the motherhood community right now, but I’d like to know: Are you aware of these existing policies and rights? How are these policies actually being translated to support or not support you? What kind of support would you like to see?
I reached out to two metropolitan moms, one in Brooklyn and one in Los Angeles to get an impression, at least, of how these policies translate for mothers.
Regarding policy and viral topics, from a young Brooklyn mom:
“I think that women influence each other, and they fight hard for women’s issues that’ll benefit the most women. I’ve learned a lot about breastfeeding just from my immediate community of mothers, within and outside of my family. But I wasn’t aware of most of these policies. There are so many random laws! I am very discreet when I breastfeed in public, and living in a very family-friendly neighborhood in Brooklyn I never really encounter any problems. Breastfeeding is often a viral topic on my social media feeds—because, moms. This is a way I’ve been staying informed. It seems like breastfeeding policy has been developing slowly, like they follow women’s complaints on a case-by-case basis, doesn’t it? But then I guess people’s attitudes follow these ‘tweaks’ to the main rule, and then it becomes more socially normal…slowly. It’s interesting that a viral post like the one about Target will creep into people’s conversations, whether they’re mothers or not. That’s a good thing! There are definitely things people can do to make you feel more comfortable. Most of the time, it’s a vibe you can tune into. I’m lucky that I already feel support from people in my immediate circle, but I’d love to know that a positive attitude about breastfeeding extends beyond my ‘corner.’”
Regarding breastfeeding while working full time, from a Los Angeles mom with gumption:
“I personally didn’t feel pressured to not pump at work. It didn’t occur to me to ask anyone if I could or couldn’t—I didn’t care if it was right or wrong to anyone else, it was my decision. I do think that if we want to have it all, we have to be prepared to plan. We can do it! But not without sacrifice and good planning. Breastfeeding can be difficult. You need to feel relaxed…like you aren’t ‘hiding.’ It doesn’t usually work when you’re pressured—you and the baby sense any frustration together. Ideally, you are in an environment where it’s acceptable and you feel supported. You don’t feel awkward, and it’s an experience that’s provided to you, if that makes sense? It’s all yours, and it’s healthy for you and your baby. You have to be able to make the decision that’s best for you—and if you have that support, and women are able to share their stories and support each other, it’s great. There are a lot of advantages to it when you aren’t pressured—when you’re supported to make your own decision.”
Words intertwined with the act of mothering kept coming to the surface in these conversations—‘support’, ‘comfortable’, ‘provide’, to name a few. Mothers want that same "pro-mother" attitude to permeate their wider network of support. Naturally.
Mitera and Maven are passionate about elevating women's health and working hard to get women everywhere the support they need, especially while trying to breastfeed.
Tasha Muresan, MA is a graduate of the Department of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University, where her adventures in maternal psychology began. She has been a part of Columbia's Maternal Psychology Laboratory since 2011 and serves as Managing Editor of the lab’s online magazine, KHORAI. Not yet a mother, she has been fortunate to accompany other women on their motherhood journeys as a long-time nanny and newly-minted birth doula. She is a regular contributor to Mitera Blog.
Maven, the digital clinic for women. No need to go to the doctor’s office for everything, especially after you’ve just given birth–Maven gets your pregnancy questions answered with video appointments from qualified health providers whenever, wherever. Maven gives you access to all the prenatal and postpartum support you need–think post-birth support from a doula, breastfeeding advice from a lactation consultant, nutritionist consults, even therapy from the comfort of your home. www.mavenclinic.com